K.T. Irfan changed the perception that Kerala is a land of sprinters and jumpers with his sterling show in the 20km walk in the 2012 London Olympics.
Now a young girl, K.T. Neena, who idolises the armyman, finished a creditable 14th in the 5km walk in the IAAF World Youth athletics meet in Ukraine last week, thus bringing the low profile event into the limelight once again.
The 16-year-old Neena was a late addition to the national coaching camp for the World championship but set a new youth National record in Ukraine. Neena, along with the other record breaker Dutee Chand, were the stars for India at the world meet.
Neena clocked 24:42.18s in Ukraine for the national record and improved on her personal best by more than 30s.
“Watch out for Neena. She may spring a surprise,” said national coach Rajinder Singh Saini before the team’s departure for Ukraine and he was not off the mark. A X standard student of Government HSS, Parli, Neena was nervous before her first international race. “I was tense and called my coach P.J. Manoj thrice before the event. He told me to relax and stay with the leading bunch during the event.
“There were 31 competitors in all and the initial pace was too hot for me, but I hung around with the leading bunch as long as I could. The competition was tough and I dropped out of the leading group and despite giving my best could finish only14th,” she said.
“I had no idea that I had set a national mark and was really tired after the race. I felt happy when the coaches told me that I had bettered the national mark. But I think I would have done better if Manoj sir was around as this was the first race I walked without him egging me on. Nevertheless it was a good experience and has given me a lot of confidence,’’ she added.
Manoj, who has been training Neena for the last three years, was full of praise. “It is a remarkable achievement considering that it was her first international meet and some of her rivals were older.
“She has a big heart and has proved it again and again over the last two years. Had she got enough time to prepare, she would have come back with a better performance,’’ he said.
Neena and Manoj have set their sights on the Youth Olympics in 2014 in which 5km walk is an event. “We have begun preparations in advance and qualifying for the event will be our aim in the coming months,’’ said Manoj.